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 January 2006


By Sebastian Steinke

Boeing certainly took its time over this decision, but once it had made up its mind everything moved into top gear. Late on the evening of 15 November, right in the middle of the A380's publicity-seeking tour of Asia and Australia, the American manufacturer came up with a spectacular announcement: the present 747-400 is to be upgraded with the latest 787 engine technology and launched as the official Boeing 747-8 programme. And what is more, two versions are to be built: the 747-8 Intercontinental, a passenger plane accommodating 450 people, will be stretched by 3.6 metres, while the 747-8 Freighter, a cargo variant with a payload of up to 140 tonnes, will be stretched by a full 5.6 metres.


“In view of the long jumbo history it may sound a little surprising, but today I view the 747-8 more as a very large midsized aircraft,” explains Jeff Peace, Vice President and Program Manager for the Boeing 747, in an interview with FLUG REVUE. “The difference in capacity between the 777-300ER / A340-600 and the A380 was simply too big. We will have this market segment all to ourselves.”

Peace estimates the sales potential for his new generation of jumbos at between 300 and 500 aircraft. For cost reasons, he is not expecting any further derivatives, such as a short cargo aircraft the same length as the passenger version or, conversely, a longer passenger variant the full length of the cargo version, or even an ultra-long range or short-range version. Peace expects the production line for the new 747 to continue for at least 15 to 25 years. The present wave of old 747-200 freighters which are coming to the end of their useful lives will work in favour of the new variant.

The main technical changes will be on the wing: instead of accommodating additional kerosene in the horizontal tail unit as on the 747 Advanced, which was planned only quite recently, Peace has had the entire wing overhauled. “We kept the sweep and the basic structure to contain the costs, but the wing will be thicker and deeper, and its aerodynamics are being recalculated. The pressure distribution and bending moments will be different. The new wing for the passenger version can now hold 60,125 litres of kerosene, and the cargo aircraft 56,825 litres. For that reason, we no longer need to change the horizontal tail unit of the 747-8 compared with the 747-400 to accommodate auxiliary tanks, which means that we have been able to save on costs there.”

On the other hand, the vertical tail unit will be raised slightly to 19.4 metres. The wingtips have also changed. Although the raked wingtips announced following the “747 Advanced” project study will continue to be used, they are now bent slightly upwards.

But the critical change lies in the engines, which will be two GEnx-2B67 engines from General Electric (GE), delivering 296kN of thrust. According to Boeing, this engine will improve the fuel consumption of the 747-8 Intercontinental by 16 percent compared with the 747-400 and by a further 14 percent compared with the A380. Moreover, the new jumbo will comply with the extremely tough QC2 and Chapter 4 noise regulations.

Unlike the 787, the 747-8 will use ultra-modern engines, which are also to be installed on the A350, in a new version with bleed air intake. However, unlike the A350, the equally advanced Rolls-Royce Trent 1700 will not be offered in parallel. The 747-8 will be powered solely by GE engines.

“Sure, every customer would like to have a choice of engine,” explains Marc Schonckert, communications director at 747-8 launch customer Cargolux, in response to a question from FLUG REVUE, “But we are happy with GE.” Cargolux has experience with both manufacturers and as of the end of November it was flying five 747 cargo aircraft powered by conventional GE engines and eight with Rolls-Royce engines. Its next new jumbo, a 747-400F, is expected to arrive before the end of the month.

Jeff Peace justifies the lack of choice on the engine with the cost argument, “We have to adapt the fan diameter to the 747 and also the entire engine cowling. The whole certification process would be too expensive if we had to do everything twice over. So GE has been given a contract granting it exclusive rights.”

The programme director is not concerned that this could alienate promising 747 regular customers, such as Cathay Pacific and British Airways (BA), which might seek successors powered by RR turbines to their older 747s. “We asked BA and Cathay about this in advance. They understand the situation. Customers know that the cost savings will work in their favour.”

There will be two versions of the new 747-8 with different lengths. The passenger version, the 747-8, will be 74.2 metres long and will utilise a stretched long upper deck bulge of the 747-400, whereas the 747-8F will be 75.3 metres long, making it the longest jumbo ever. Like the 747-400F, the 747-8F will only have a short bulge, as the upper deck restricts the height of the main deck underneath.

Jeff Peace explains why the two sister aircraft have ended up being so different. “We have optimised both models for their respective markets. The requirement for the passenger version was a transpacific range of 8,000 nautical miles (14,815km) and a capacity increase of 20 percent compared with the 777-300.”

To continue using the existing infrastructure at the cargo hubs, the freight version will retain the proven range of the 747-400ERF, and the aim will be to keep tonne/mile costs as low as possible by maximising capacity in the main deck. “We can get four extra pallets into the main deck and three extra ones into the lower deck.” Boeing is promising that trip costs with the 747-8F, whose empty weight will be 86 tonnes less than the A380F, will be 20 percent lower and tonne/mile costs 23 percent lower.

Marc Schonckert of Cargolux is particularly pleased that the cargo version will retain its nose cargo door. “The forward door is rather important. It is true that only five to 10 percent of our freight is oversized, but it means that the rest can be loaded more quickly because the holds can be accessed from the front and sides simultaneously. We have been evaluating future aircraft for five years and took a closer look at the A380F, the 777F and the 747 before we finally decided on the 747-8F. It fits our business plan the best.” Other arguments which convinced Cargolux to go for the new jumbo include training costs, existing loading devices, spare parts and dimensions.

The Luxembourg-based company has placed firm orders for ten 747-8 Freighters, with deliveries commencing in the third quarter of 2009, and it has also taken out a further 10 options. The second customer, which was essential as far as Boeing was concerned before it would commit to the programme launch, is Nippon Cargo Airlines of Japan, which is purchasing eight 747-8F's, with options for a further six.

On the other hand, no orders have yet been announced for the passenger version of the 747-8. Its trump card is a new “sky loft” additional deck (see FLUG REVUE 9/2004) behind the bulge and above the rear main deck. As Jeff Peace explains, “The sky loft will be a standard feature in the future. It extends from door 3 to door 5. With a high-up crew rest for flight attendants and a stowage compartment for food trolleys by door 4, there will be room for twelve extra passengers in the main deck. But airlines also have the option of installing anything they want up there, for example, passenger berths, recreation rooms, toilets or fitness rooms.” In the main cabin the design has been updated with curved forms and newly designed toilet compartments.

Peace is not expecting any orders for the passenger version before the end of the year, but several potential customers are apparently drawing up their requirements at the moment. “The 747-8 is the biggest type that one can efficiently deploy on popular point-to-point routes. For example, in Germany it would be perfect for long-haul flights from Munich.”

Due to the need for seamless and hence low-cost conversion training for existing jumbo crew, the cockpit of the 747-8 has undergone only limited modernisation. Pilots with current 747 type ratings will be able to fly the 747-8. One new feature is a Flight Management System of the latest generation, complete with electronic checklists, a data link to the ground and screen displays of the flight attitude with ground profile. As in the 777 and 787, small scratch pads will serve as additional input devices for the computers. The 747-8 standard fit will include the fittings necessary to accommodate the optional electronic flight bag. The next generation of jumbos will still be controlled via the two mechanical control columns.

“Final configuration” design status is expected to be achieved within a year, so that rollout can take place in the third quarter of 2008. The maiden flight is then scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2008, so that, following certification, the first 747-8F can enter into service with Cargolux in September 2009.

From FLUG REVUE 1/2006

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